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Category: Author Interviews



An Interview With Author Meurig Williams




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Meurig was born and raised in Wales, and attended Oxford University in England where he received BA (first-class honors), MA and DPhil degrees in chemistry. As part of what was then referred to as the “brain drain”, he accepted a post-doctoral position at the University of California, Berkeley and became an American citizen. He is the holder of 15 US patents, and his multidisciplinary interests have resulted in publications in a wide range of journals across chemistry and physics. In retirement, he has continued the research he initiated at the Xerox Webster Research Center in New York into the triboelectric charging of insulating materials, which is one of the sciences underlying copier and laser printer technology. An overview of this was published as the cover page article in the July-August 2012 issue of The American Scientist entitled: What Creates Static Electricity? AmeriCymru spoke to Meurig about his latest book: What is wrong with the Welsh? Why are they mocked by the English?

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AmeriCymru: Care to introduce your new book “What is wrong with the Welsh? Why are they mocked by the English?”. And what inspired you to write this book?

Meurig: The subject of how the Welsh relate to the English has come up many times in discussions with a friend who was born in Wales and now lives in both England and the US; it was those discussions that provided inspiration for this book. I like to think that I have some perspective on this subject because I was born and raised in Wales, educated at Oxford University and then moved permanently to the US and became an American citizen. My friend is also an artist of renown, and she went to my home town Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire in order to capture its essence in a drawing, which is included in the book.

I focused on mockery of the Welsh by the English for two reasons. It encapsulates so much that is different between the two peoples. And it is a subject that is still considered so disturbing that the Welsh Assembly recently called for “an end to persistent anti-Welsh racism in the UK media”. In addition, this subject merited a serious article in The Spectator in 2009: “Mocking the Welsh is the last permitted bigotry”, by no less an authority on every aspect of Welsh life than Jan Morris. Who, incidentally, is described in the October 31, 2016 issue of The Spectator as “the greatest descriptive writer of her time”.

AmeriCymru: How did history help you understand this issue?

Meurig: In order to understand this issue, I delved into areas where the histories of Wales and England intersect. For a thousand years, the Welsh have been subjected to military and/or political domination by the English, which culminated in Henry VIII’s Act of Union, whose purpose was to totally annihilate Welsh culture, language and laws, and to covert Welsh people into English people in every way. It was a major act of attempted genocide. Henry VIII is now considered to have demonstrated behavioural characteristics of a psychopath according to modern psychiatric concepts.

But the English failed to destroy the Welsh. In spite of many major military defeats and extraordinary degrees of humiliation, Welsh culture, language and national identity have survived. Morris attributed that survival to Wales’ inextinguishable national spirit. And she suggested that it was English feelings of inferiority compared to that Welsh spirit that resulted in their mockery of the Welsh.

AmeriCymru: You argue that English mockery of the Welsh is a classic example of “psychological projection”. Care to tell us more?

Meurig: Projection is a concept in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. In my analysis, I interpret the mockery in terms of such projection. That is, the English project their own feelings of inferiority onto the Welsh, as opposed to a simple comparison of the two countries that was suggested by Morris. But in both interpretations, it is English feelings of inferiority that caused their mockery of the Welsh.

How can it be explained that the mockery continued unabated from the Tudor era (which was documented by Shakespeare), through the mighty days of Empire, to England’s current loss of power and identity crisis? Shakespeare wrote his plays half a century after the Act of Union, so he was aware of how the Welsh had survived its harsh impositions - equal rights were denied to the Welsh if they continued to speak Welsh, which was their only language in most cases.

At the height of Empire, English national identity was defined by its power, but that of Wales was not, because centuries of military defeats and humiliations had eliminated any vestige of power from the Welsh psyche. The fact that the mockery continued throughout the height of Empire indicates that even the riches and power of the English were not sufficient to alleviate feelings of inferiority relative to that Welsh spirit.

AmeriCymru: Do you feel that more should be done to counter this kind of mockery?

Meurig: After its loss of Empire, Britain has struggled to determine its role in the world and establish its national identity, and that has been confounded by the recent decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), not to mention Scotland’s ongoing threat to leave the United Kingdom. So if the mockery can be attributed to the inferior national identity of the English compared to the Welsh, it cannot be expected to improve any time soon.

AmeriCymru: Shouldn’t the book’s title have been WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE ENGLISH?

Meurig: A good question indeed considering that the mockery has been attributed to shortcomings of the English. And that led to a consideration of whether other characteristics of the English may also have contributed to the mockery. It turns out that some of the most prominent English writers have expressed the opinion that hypocrisy is central to the English character. These include Jeremy Paxman and Alan Bennett. And David Hare wrote in his 2015 book The Blue Touch Paper: “The only response any halfway sensitive person could have to British life in the 1950s was to laugh at it….Britons were petty, posturing and ridiculous.” The book clearly reveals that he is referring to the English, not more generally to the British.

I indicate that there are suggestions that the Church of England may be coming to terms with its barely disguised hypocrisy through the ages. In the mid 20th century, religion mattered deeply in British society, but since then church attendance has declined steeply. That has been traced to the social revolution of the 1960s. I discuss an example where the Church, so accustomed to marketing blind faith in the irrational, is finally beginning to replace hypocrisy with truth, which has always been a more difficult concept to embrace.

AmeriCymru: Has Welsh ‘confidence’ increased at all as a result of the Devolution votes in your opinion? If so, would further devolution or even full independence increase that trend?

Meurig: Welsh ‘confidence’ is certainly on the rise. After the second world war, Gwynfor Evans (1912-2005) assumed a leading role which slowly infused a renewed confidence in the Welsh national psyche, and a greater presence for Wales in British politics. He was also a lawyer and historian of note. He felt strongly that Henry VIII’s Act of Union had a major negative impact on Wales and personally made contributions to correct that. He was President of the Welsh political party Plaid Cymru for 36 years and was the first Member of Parliament to represent it at Westminster, where he was instrumental in passing the first Welsh Language Act, 1967, which gave some rights to the use of the Welsh language in legal proceedings in Wales. That was followed by creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1998 which provided limited power to make legislation independently of the British Parliament. That it required the use of the Welsh language in teaching and government jobs, as well as street signs, etc., provided a significant boost to Welsh confidence.

Perhaps the most significant indicator of the resurgence of Welsh pride is he emergence of young people who are able to express themselves fluently in both Welsh and English. The Welsh TV station S4C is central to enabling such advances.

But these developments do not seem to be reducing mockery by the English. And we can now understand that in view of our conclusion that the mockery results purely from shortcomings of the English.

AmeriCymru: What’s next for Meurig Williams? Any new works in the pipeline?

Meurig: Yes. After retirement 16 years ago, my main interest was to enjoy the beach life in Florida. But after a few years of such unapologetic indulgences that was not enough, and I hankered for a more meaningful existence. So a period of personal reinvention was called for. I had worked at the Xerox Research Center in Webster, New York for many years where I had the opportunity to conduct basic research into one of the little understood sciences upon which copier and laser printer technologies are based. I made some experimental observations which I considered to be of unusual importance, but they were not well received in that competitive community. So, here was my new retirement opportunity, a return to the world of scientific research after an absence of several decades. Thanks to the online availability of scientific journals, I brought myself up to date on the recent developments in the field, and integrated them with my early work.

This resulted in a series of successes - several publications in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at scientific conferences, and a cover page article in The American Scientist in 2012: “What Creates Static Electricity? Traditionally considered a physics problem, the answer is beginning to emerge from chemistry and other sciences.” My contributions became recognized by the scientific community to the extent that I was invited to be keynote speaker at a major conference hosted by NASA in 2013, and received a job offer by a California startup. That was as far as I could take my research without access to a laboratory for further experimentation. An opportunity to collaborate with a university department arose but that became unrealistic on account of the travel that would be required. So a second reinvention was called for. I decided to write about my re entry into the scientific world and extended that to include a variety of life experiences.

And that has led to my current book. But it is not the last. I have started a novel, part fiction, part truth based on a panoply of ambition, intrigue, betrayal, high drama and tragedy both among friends and a few notable personalities.

AmeriCymru: Any final messages for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Meurig: For anyone who has a deep interest in Wales the country, Welsh life and Welsh people, there can be no better reading than Jan Morris’ 1984 landmark book THE MATTER OF WALES. EPIC VIEWS OF A SMALL COUNTRY. I consider it to provide the deepest and most sensitive insights into what being Welsh is all about. This is taken from that book:

Often hated and generally scorned by the English, the Welsh have fluctuated down the centuries from arrogance to self-doubt, from quiescence to rebellion, and today only a minority of them actively fight for their national identity, or even speak their native language; yet despite the overwhelming proximity of the English presence, a force which has affected the manners, thoughts and systems of half the world, for better or for worse Wales has not lost its Welshness.

Their brief years of triumph (referring to Owain Glyndwr’s uprising against the English in 15th century) represented a climax in the history of Wales, but changed nothing in the end: for the Welsh always were, and perhaps always will be, in a condition of resistance against the present, yearning sometimes for a more magnificent past, sometimes for a future more rewarding. It is the nature of the people: very likely the genius too.

Wales, a History by Gwynfor Evans, 1996. This book presents an important analysis of the critical junctures in Welsh history which determined its current state.

Wild Wales: its People, Language and Scenery, by George Borrow, 1862. Borrow was an English author who wrote novels and travelogues based on his experiences traveling around Europe:

But it is not for its scenery alone that Wales is deserving of being visited; scenes soon palls unless it is associated with remarkable events, and the names of remarkable men. Perhaps there is no country in the whole world which has been the scene of events more stirring and remarkable than those recorded in the history of Wales. What other country has been the scene of a struggle so deadly, so embittered, and protracted as that between the Welsh and the English – a struggle that did not terminate at Caernarvon, when Edward Longshanks foisted his young son upon the Welsh chieftains as Prince of Wales; but was kept up till the Battle of Bosworth Field, when a prince of Cumric blood won the crown of fair Britain.




New Book: What Is Wrong With The Welsh? Why Are They Mocked By The English?


meurig3.jpg "Mocking the Welsh is the last permitted bigotry” - The Spectator, 2009. It is entrenched in British lore, well documented by Shakespeare, and considered so disturbing that the Welsh Assembly has recently called for “an end to persistent anti-Welsh racism in the UK media”. Here, we explore reasons for this behavior, and trace its origin by delving into areas where the histories of Wales and England intersect. Both unfortunate and intrinsically unsavory characteristics of the English are identified, which are responsible for the mockery and other aspects of their culture.

Cover page

Shakespeare, in several plays, mocked the Welsh for their manners, language, temperament and outmoded attitudes. In Henry V, Fluellen is a Welsh captain in Henry V’s army. He is a comic figure, whose characterization draws on stereotypes of the Welsh at that time. He is shown here (left) intimidating the soldier Pistol while on campaign in France during the Hundred Years' War. Pistol had mocked Fluellen for wearing a leek in his cap on St. David’s Day, but Fluellen, in his flamboyant way, makes Pistol eat the raw leek. The name Fluellen is the anglicised version of the Welsh surname Llywelyn, the English finding it difficult to render the Welsh sound ‘Ll’. ...

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Alan Bilton
is the author of two novels, The Known and Unknown Sea (2014), variously compared to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the 1902 movie, A Trip to the Moon, and Dante’s Inferno, and The Sleepwalkers’ Ball (2009) which one critic described as “Franz Kafka meets Mary Poppins”. As a writer, he is obviously a hard man to pin down. He is also the author of books on Silent Film Comedy, Contemporary Fiction, and America in the 1920s. He teaches Creative Writing, Contemporary Literature, and Film at Swansea University in Wales.

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AnywhereOutoftheWorld_Full.jpg AmeriCymru: Hi Alan and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to tell us a little about your latest book:- 'Anywhere Out Of The World'?

Alan: I wanted to come up with a collection of short stories poised somewhere between horror and comedy – odd bedfellows, I know, but that was part of the attraction. Conventional wisdom says that the comic comforts rather than unsettles, and that humour stops dread in its tracks. At the same time though both are linked by a sense of anxiety and surprise: comedy and horror bypass the rational, logical parts of the brain to generate an immediate physical response – whether a laugh or a shudder.

I also wanted to write a series of stories which played with the Surrealist idea of the marvellous. The Surrealists believed – and they’re probably right – that we’re essentially conservative creatures who travel the same paths and perform the same tasks day in, day out – what the Surrealists called ‘the habitual’. Crucially however, they also suggested that reality isn’t as stable or solid as such routines might suggest. One false move, one random slip, and we stumble headfirst into a strange space outside of the familiar – the twilight zone of ‘the marvellous’.

Now the marvellous sounds marvellous, but the experience of the marvellous is profoundly unsettling – Breton called it ‘convulsive’ - in the sense that we’ve fallen through a trap door into a wholly alien realm. Or if not alien, then the familiar rendered strange – as in a dream.

I wanted to write a collection of short stories which functioned as a kind of crooked house with secret passages between stories, mysterious port-holes and hidden staircases and abandoned lift shafts, which take one both from one story to another and from the everyday world to the kingdom of the uncanny. The stories are set in all sorts of places – Wales, Russia, Paris, Venice – but a sense of estrangement is central to all of them – the sense that characters are somehow in the wrong place.

AmeriCymru: One of the stories in this collection is set in Walla Walla, Washington. What inspired this tale?

Alan: Although the story involves the ghost of Princess Diana and a hungry bear, much of it did really happen to me – more or less. I was invited to give a lecture on silent film comedy at Walla Walla while on a University recruitment trip. I really was picked up at the airport by a Native American guy who asked me whether I thought that Princess Di was beautiful, and in the next breath why I (by which I guess he meant, the British) killed her. He really did give me his card and say ‘Wherever you are, I will come and get you” in a strangely menacing tone of voice. And then when I got there, there were posters advertising my talk everywhere – somebody had done a really terrific job in terms of promotion. The night of my lecture, the campus was full of crowds of students and locals, all of them discussing some talk a visiting speaker was due to give. Anyway, I went to the bath room, and when I emerged, everybody was gone: I went to my lecture theatre and there was only one old lady sitting there, waiting rather grumpily. It turned out that all the crowds were heading to a talk on climate change – as if global warming is more important than Buster Keaton, I know! – and I ended up playing my movie clips in a vast darkened auditorium to an audience of one. So there you go, all those bits were true. The bear, I made up.  

AmeriCymru: In your first novel 'The Sleepwalkers Ball' we find the following passage:-"Or is it that alongside this track runs other lines - repetitions, variations, contradictions - echoes of all those lives we failed to live and the things we failed to do?" To what extent are the stories in this anthology an exploration of the profound disconnect between peoples real lives and their possibilities and potential.

Alan: Well, the default position for all my writing is the subjunctive – what is wished for, or feared, or what might have been. I’m not a realist. My fiction is all about how the imagination rebels against the real – whether for good or ill. The unspoken question in The Sleepwalkers Ball is whether one’s fantasy life is more meaningful than mundane life, or merely a kind of infantile escape from it. The same notion pops up in several of the stories too. Has the artist in the title story escaped from the everyday through his art, or stumbled into some kind of metaphysical trap? It’s also there in the dual endings of ‘The Honeymoon Suite’ – the notion that the question of what happened is more of a labyrinth than a straight line.

AmeriCymru: In your online interview with Jon Gower re: 'The Known and Unknown Sea' you talk about things being taken in the wrong context and 'fever dreams'. How much of that applies to the stories in this collection? Are there thematic  parallells between these stories and your earlier novels?

Alan: I actually don’t have any problem with readers taking things in the wrong context – the beauty of mystery is that you’re free to decide to what extent you want to interpret or ‘solve’ it. Much of what I’ve written so far can be seen as a fever dream or an extended anxiety attack: the short stories perhaps even more so. Short stories often deal with writers’ main concerns in a very direct and undiluted form – which can be good or bad, of course. All my books are slapstick comedies which can be read as uncanny and terrifying or farcical and light hearted – I’m happy for the reader to juggle these two ideas or moods, as they wish.

AmeriCymru: What is your take on the art of short story writing? What, for you, makes a good short story?

Alan: There is a school of thought that the short story and the novel are in fact wholly different disciplines, and that the short story is closer to poetry than prose. I’m afraid that in my philistine way I’ve never felt this, though. A story should be as long as it takes the teller to tell it. And for all the experimental aspects of the stories – their absurdism, irreality and sense of crossed paths – each of the stories is intended to work as a well told tale. They’re not slices of life or impressionistic snapshots: they’re complete entities, with a sense of order, meaning and shape we rarely encounter in real life. I tend to like a sense of structure in fiction – it’s a lie, but a necessary lie, something which we turn to fiction to supply because it’s terribly absent from everyday life.

AmeriCymru: You have a keen appreciation of early silent film comedy. Does this inform or influence your writing? To what extent does what you are currently watching or reading influence your prose?

Alan: Yes, I spent nearly ten years writing a book on silent film comedy, and talking about them with students. As a kid I adored Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin and so on – Buster Keaton came later. It’s amazing to think that such antique films were still being shown on TV when I was a kid – although I guess they weren’t so ancient then. I loved their dreamlike sense that anything could happen, that they were a kind of cartoon occupied by real people, a black and white and soundless universe, cut off from real life, from realism. And I liked the idea that this universe was separate, even if, for me, these films were also full of anxiety: I worried about Stan and Ollie when they screwed things up, anxiously worried about what might happen next. They seemed to me to be both a dream and a nightmare – which is what I’ve tried to translate into fiction.  

For a long time I was an incredible film buff and pretty much watched a film every day – these days family life isn’t so conducive such idleness, alas. Film – from silent comedy to European New Wave cinema – still influences a lot of what I write though. Anywhere Out of the World – which is a Chagall painting as well as a Baudelaire poem – was also very influenced by early 20 th Century Modern Art. Visual things tend to be easier to import into fiction than music – or at least that’s how I find it. I still try and read a novel every week – and no doubt whatever I’m reading affects the imaginative weather of whatever I’m scribbling away at.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us something about your first novel 'Sleepwalkers Ball'?

Alan: Sleepwalker is, I guess, my most dreamlike book – in the original draft none of the characters had names, until my editor put me straight – but I never saw it as a difficult or experimental book, still less as some intellectual puzzle to be solved. It’s a love story set in the same black and white, slapstick comedy universe I talked about earlier. The four stories are all versions of the same romance, and inter-connect, or contradict, or question, each other at will. It was also my first stab at creating a world in which the imagination is allowed to wander where it likes – where what might have happened, or what you wanted to happen, or what you were worried about happening, are all given the same narrative weight. I intended it to be sweet and funny, although one reviewer described it as a grotesque horror show and ended the review with the prediction ‘I’m sure there’ll be more of this unreadable rubbish to come’. They were right too…

AmeriCymru: Your second novel 'The Known and Unknown Sea' has been described as "a beautiful and heartbreaking journey through memory, loss and imagination". How would you describe it?

Alan: It was an attempt – just before my first child was born – to write a novel exploring the imaginative world of a child. It’s about how resilient a child’s imagination is, and how flexible too – how they can accept and process impossible or inexplicable things and yet maintain their own internal buoyancy.

So, on the one hand it’s a book about what children fear most, but also a playful, comic adventure – another juxtaposition of contrary ideas, just like Anywhere Out of the World.

It’s also a book made out of materials you might find a school art room – the sets all sticky with glue, the paint applied with a stick. So the houses are very square and blocky, the figures stick men or scribbled beards. The aesthetic or form of the book came out of this basic idea – crooked lines, primary colours, a distorted perspective where the sky is just a thick blue line above the earth. A child’s point of view is very hard to capture via language alone, so I tried to find the right visual match: readers can let me know whether or not I managed it.

AmeriCymru: What's next for Alan Bilton? Any new titles in the pipeline?

Alan: The next book is my big Russian novel – all Russian novels are big, of course, it’s a contractual obligation. My elevator pitch for the book is ‘the bastard child of Agatha Christie and Mikhail Bulgakov’. It’s a murder mystery set during the Russian Civil War, though the atmosphere and setting are not entirely realistic, you’ll be astonish to hear.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Alan: At a time when countries are either building walls or burning bridges, cross-cultural links have never been more important. Exploring different cultures is always a mix of the known and the unknown, the familiar and the foreign – which is to say, part of the adventure of life. We all need to keep our imaginative doors as wide open as we can. 



Interview by Ceri Shaw






AmeriCymru spoke with Mari Griffith author of 'The Witch of Eye' BUY THE BOOK HERE

"Eleanor Cobham, the beautiful but unpopular Duchess of Gloucester, is proud of her hard-won status among the English aristocracy.  She has used every trick in the book to entrap her royal husband, Humphrey of Gloucester, uncle to King Henry VI who is unmarried and childless...."  read more here



A PROMISE KEPT!

AmeriCymru: A year or so ago, when we interviewed Mari Griffith on the publication of her debut novel 'Root of the Tudor Rose', she promised that Americymru readers would be among the first to know about her new novel. And are we, Mari?

Mari: Yes, absolutely! You're certainly among the first because the book has only recently been published. And, by the way, thank you for inviting me back - it's a pleasure to be here.

AmeriCymru: Now, this is your second novel, isn't it, so just before we hear all about it, can you tell us whether the first one did well?

Mari: Very well, I'm pleased to say, particularly in the US which I wasn't really expecting. But perhaps that had a little bit to do with this very web site - who knows?! And I was particularly pleased by its success because Root of the Tudor Rose was a story woven around the little-known Welsh origins of the Tudor dynasty. Essentially it was about the clandestine love affair between Catherine de Valois, the widow of King Henry V and the Welshman Owain ap Maredydd ap Tudur. I was filled with a missionary zeal to point out that the most famous dynasty in English history wasn't really 'English' at all - there was a strong element of Welsh in there, too.

AmeriCymru: And is the second book a sequel to it?

Mari: No, not exactly and neither does it have any particular Welsh flavour though it does continue the story of one or two of the characters we've already met, particularly Eleanor Cobham who became the Duchess of Gloucester during the course of the first book.

AmeriCymru: So what made you want to write this one?

Mari: Because it's such an astounding story. Let me give you a flavour of it ... and perhaps giving you the title is a good place to start. It's called The Witch of Eye and it's the story of the events leading up to the most sensational treason trial of the fifteenth century. Now, the Duke of Gloucester, who was so very nasty to Owen Tudor in the first book, is heir to the throne of his young nephew, King Henry VI. The king is a troubled teenager, spotty and a bit dim, who is by no means suited to the position he's inherited as supreme sovereign of England and France. To the Duchess of Gloucester's way of thinking, her husband, Humphrey, would make a far, far better King of England. She also realises that if anything should happen to King Henry, then her own husband would inherit the throne and she, Eleanor, would become Queen of England. A delicious prospect and she becomes obsessed with it!

AmeriCymru: Don't tell me she tried to bump him off!

Mari: Who, the King? No, not exactly, but she did gather around her a group of advisers, some of whom could interpret certain astral signs and not only read her horoscope but also tell her what the future held in store for the young King. And one of those advisers was the witch of the title - 'The Witch of Eye'.

AmeriCymru: 'Eye' as in 'I Spy'? That's an odd name.

Mari: Yes, isn't it? In fact it was the manor farm of Eye-next-Westminster, the monastic estate which belonged to Westminster Abbey and its Benedictine monastery. If you happen to be a tourist in modern-day London, it's difficult to imagine that in medieval times, a thousand acres of land to the west of the Abbey was prime farming land. It was a cattle station, too, where drovers from Wales and the West of England would take their bullocks to be fattened up before being slaughtered and sold at Smithfield Market to the townsfolk of London who had no room to farm crops and keep animals of their own. The whole of the area now occupied by Hyde Park and Mayfair to the north, right down through Belgravia to Sloane Square and Pimlico in the south, was once part of that farm. The old name of 'Eye' changed down the centuries and became Eybury and, finally, Ebury, which is now seen only in street names. One of these is Ebury Bridge Road which leads on to Buckingham Palace Road and the palace itself stands on land which was once part of the great monastic estate of Eye-next-Westminster.

AmeriCymru: So tell us more about the treason.

Mari: Well, in a sense, poor old Eleanor was more sinned against than sinning because, above all else, she wanted to be able to give her husband a son and heir so that, in the event that he did inherit the throne, at least he'd have legitimate heirs of his own. The only problem was that she sought help from Margery Jourdemayne, a so-called 'wise woman' whose husband was the yeoman-farmer in charge of the Eye estate. Eleanor consulted Margery in her desperate search for magical potions to help her conceive a child. Not such a terrible thing in itself but when the Duke's enemies got hold of the story they blew it up out of all proportion and it all got very nasty indeed. The sensational trial at which they were accused of treason against the King was the biggest cause célèbre of the fifteenth century!

AmeriCymru: Not much chance of a happy ending, then!

Mari: There is a happy ending, as it happens, but only because I invented it! It's the only part of the story which isn't absolutely based on fact. I decided to create a new character, a young Devonshire woman called Jenna, who could provide me with a positive love story which would make things turn out all right in the end. Oh, and there's a little girl in there, too, whom readers seem to dote on. She's called Kitty, or sometimes 'Kittymouse', which is Jenna's pet name for her.

AmeriCymru: It sounds as if the characters really came alive for you.

Mari: Oh, they did. It was almost as though they lived right here in the Vale of Glamorgan - around the corner from our house! I think you've got to believe in your characters before you can expect readers to enjoy your book.

AmeriCymru: Well, from what you've said about it, Mari, it sounds as though readers are already beginning to enjoy it.

Mari: It does seem that they are because it's already picked up several five star reviews. And I'm delighted at that because I've got a bad dose of 'second book syndrome' at the moment, just hoping that people will like the second book as much as they liked the first!

AmeriCymru: So, just remind us of the title again ...

Mari: The title is The Witch of Eye and it's published by Accent Press. You'll find it on Amazon as an ebook and it's out as a paperback too, so it should be available through most US bookshops and via the Americymru web site of course. And by the way, thank you for making that possible and for letting me tell you all about it. But in case anyone has any problems, I'll leave you with some links you might find helpful:

http://amzn.to/1ThU2Hn

www.marigriffith.co.uk

www.accentpress.co.uk



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From the Wikipedia :- "Born Ernest James Perrin in Manchester, he has lived in Wales, England and France on occasions, from where he contributed to the Guardian Country Diary. Before turning to writing, he worked in Cwm pennant as a shepherd.  As a writer, he has made regular contributions to a number of newspapers and climbing magazines. As a climber, he has developed new routes, as well as making solo ascents of a number of established routes."

AmeriCymru spoke to Jim about his new book Snowdon: The Story of a Welsh Mountain'

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AmeriCymru:   It is evident from your book that you have visited Snowdon on many occasions. How would you describe your relationship with the mountain?


Jim: Long-standing, intimate and passionate – also a marriage of mind as well as body. There are so many dimensions to the mountain that I find fascinating. And it is, of course, extraordinarily beautiful.

AmeriCymru:  Care to describe your book ''Snowdon'' for our readers? What inspired you to write it?

Jim: In a sense it’s a biography of the mountain, in that there’s an element of recounting chronological “life” story. It’s highly discursive, certainly not a guidebook, and it tries to explain and depict as many elements relevant to the mountain as possible within the relatively short space of 240 pages – from geology, physical form and folklore through to its importance as contemporary recreational focus.

AmeriCymru:  In your book you explain that Snowdon is a special mountain for the Welsh. In what sense has it been special historically?

Jim: The highest point of any nation always has significance – mythically, oropolitically. Think of your own Mount Whitney in the contiguous states. To the Welsh, Eryri – the mountainous region around Snowdon – has long been a cultural and linguistic heartland. In earlier times it was the chief resistant region against the English colonists – think of Gwynedd, where Eryri’s to be found, as a Helmand province of its time. This is why Edward 1 made such a point of holding a feast on Snowdon summit in 1284, after the defeat of Llew Olaf and the execution of his brother Dafydd. The line of Gwynedd destroyed, or so he thought, to appropriate their most potent physical symbol was crucial to his imperial aspirations. But since you can never conquer a mountain, Snowdon (the Saxon name curiously appears to be older than any extant Welsh one) emerged from the cloud it had been put under by Edward’s militarism and somehow grew into a resistant symbol of Welsh nationhood.



 AmeriCymru:  Can you tell us a little more about the folklore surrounding the mountain?

Jim: There isn’t another mountain in Britain that has so rich and various a folklore, from abounding tales of the faery folk that perhaps have their origin in some collective-unconscious memory of encounters with an older race of inhabitants here as Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages overlapped and succeeded each other, to the wealth of association with what became known, after it had migrated to early-medieval Europe, as “The Matter of Britain”. These were the stories centring around Arthur and Merlin that Sir Thomas Malory codified in Le Morte Darthur (excuse Malory’s French!). It seems  highly likely that their early emergence had some connection with the Snowdon region, where they locate very precisely at certain sites like Dinas Emrys in Nant Gwynen (the name of which was changed by a later generation of colonialists, the English Ordnance Survey, to that tautological abomination “Nant Gwynant”, as which it remains on maps to the present day).



 AmeriCymru:  Which of the six best known paths to the summit do you prefer? Which would you recommend to the first time visitor?



Jim: My recommendation as a relatively straightforward introduction would be for a circuit, taking the Snowdon Ranger path from Cwellyn in ascent, which is long and easy and takes you over the crest of Snowdon’s finest cliff, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, and then following the Bwlch Main ridge in descent, which leads you down to Rhyd Ddu, only a short step from your starting point, and gives you the best views out west to beautiful lesser hills along the Lleyn Peninsula, with a sea at either hand. Both routes are replete with association from the early literature of the mountain – Thomas Johnson, Pennant, Coleridge, Wordsworth and so on.

AmeriCymru:  Where in your opinion is the most satisfying rock climbing to be found on Snowdon?



Jim: No problem answering that! Clogwyn Du’r Arddu on the northern flank is by common consent the finest cliff in Britain, the rock-climbing on it magnificently characterful and varied. But high, serious, technical, and not a place where beginners are advised to try their hand too immediately!

AmeriCymru:  In your chapter ''The starting Of The Wild Idea'' there are a number of excerpts from accounts of visits to Snowdon. How prominent a role did Snowdon play in the 18th century revival of interest in the ''sublime of nature''?



Jim: It provided a perfect paradigm for Burke’s hugely influential aesthetics essay of 1757, “A  Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” , which underpinned the Romantic movement that welled up towards the end of the Eighteenth Century. All the early travellers here saw it thus – Pennant and Wordsworth, who borrowed from him in true Cambridge copyist  tradition, particularly. With the increasing difficulties involved in continental travel during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, Snowdon’s relative accessibility made the mountain very fashionable indeed.

AmeriCymru:  Where can people go online to buy ''Snowdon''?

Jim: The book’s published by one of the great Welsh institutions, Gwasg Gomer of Llandysul, and a fabulous job they’ve done too on the production and design, from the handmade Italian endpapers to the exquisite Sion Ilar cover illustration. So buying it direct from Gomer seems a good way to keep the faith www.gomer.co.uk/    



 AmeriCymru:  What''s next for Jim Perrin? 



Jim: My next book’s already out, as of March 2013 – it’s called Shipton and Tilman: The Great Decade of Himalayan Exploration (Hutchinson, £25), and is about the quirky 1930s friendship between the two men who, venturesome eco-conscious ragamuffins that they were, became the model and ideal for ethical mountain activity thereafter. Of all my books, it’s the one I’ve most enjoyed writing! I wanted to call it “The Spies Who Invented the Yeti” (they were, and they did), but the publishers thought best to play straight. At the moment I’m working on a collection of stories – my first attempt at fiction. It’s due out from the little Welsh publishing house of Cinnamon Press in the fall of 2013 under the title of A Snow Goose and other stories . Next after that is a critical biography of the major Victorian miscellaneous prose writer George Borrow, who’ll be known to AmeriCymru followers as the author of Wild Wales – the best book of travel ever published about any part of the British Isles, and one of the strangest too.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Jim: “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters”, and get your asses over to Wales asap to see what Snowdon’s like for yourselves. Pick up on the clues in my book, though, on how to stay away from the crowds, and study the O.S. 1:25,000 map very carefully, even though it is a product of the English military establishment. See you there among the clouds! 



  Works by Jim Perrin on Amazon  



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Prichard''s Nose AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh author Sam Adams about his first novel Prichard''s Nose which  tells the tale of a man who lost his nose in strange circumstances.

Sam Adams comes from Gilfach Goch, Glamorgan and is a former editor of Poetry Wales and a former chairman of the English-language section of Yr Academi Gymreig. He edited the Collected Poems and Collected Stories of Roland Mathias, is the author of three monographs in the ‘Writers of Wales’ series and is a frequent contributor of poems, criticism and essays to a number of magazines. He published his third collection of poems, Missed Chances in 2007.

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Sam Adams AmeriCymru: How would you describe your novel Prichard’s Nose?

Sam: Let me say first that I am delighted to be given this opportunity by AmeriCymru/Welsh American Bookstore, to talk about the novel, and its subject, the historical Thomas Prichard, who still fascinates me.

But to answer your question: much of Prichard’s Nose is, I suppose, an old-fashioned picaresque novel, written in an approximation of nineteenth-century style, because Prichard is supposed to be writing an account of his own life. Readers will find the ‘autobiographical’ chapters begin with the sort of summary of their contents that you often find in nineteenth-century books. His story opens on a small farmhouse high on a ridge overlooking the River Usk in Breconshire, where he has come with his mother as an infant. The scandalous event that brought them there gradually emerges during the story. He describes his boyhood on and in the neighbourhood of the farm, his education at the home of a wealthy great-uncle in a nearby village, and his bitterness at the discovery that this relative has no intention of helping him any further. Having learned his father left him and his mother to join a brother in London, he determines to go to the great city and find him. He journeys there on foot, with a company of drovers driving a herd of cattle across England to a sale for the London market, where he says goodbye to his companions and makes his way alone to the last known address of his father. There his uncle takes him in, for his father is dead. His adventures in London begin quietly enough when his uncle obtains for him an apprenticeship in a firm of accountants, but an interest in all kinds of theatrical entertainments and a chance meeting with a group of actors lead to his being engaged at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, under the management of the famous Shakespearian actor Philip Kemble. Although he gains some modest success on the stage, he realises he will never be given a leading role and his ambition turns in another direction: he will become a writer. At the end of his account he has a book of poems on Welsh subjects that he plans to sell in Wales.

In parallel with Prichard’s autobiography, the novel tells the story of Martin, a hapless, lonely young man, who also harbours the ambition to be a writer, and has taken on the task of researching Prichard. He begins grudgingly but finds himself drawn into the pursuit of this actor, known as ‘Mr Jefferies’, and (poor) poet with the pen name ‘Jeffery Llewelyn’, who was the first to write a book about Twm Sion Catti, and who somehow lost his nose. Martin finds the manuscript of Prichard’s story, which has long lain neglected in a library, and, to his utter confusion, that another researcher, the cleverer, more confident Rachel, has beaten him to this discovery. They meet and Martin, on the rebound from a brief disastrous marriage, falls for Rachel. Their doomed relationship is conducted by correspondence, the letters serving also to explore Prichard’s later life.

The book operates in two time frames, one in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and the other in the last quarter of the twentieth (but before mobile phones and email simplified and speeded contact between people), and the style varies accordingly. The last section of the book, as I have already indicated, is written in the epistolary manner, another old-fashioned approach to story telling, though one still quite often used.

AmeriCymru: How did you first become interested in Thomas Prichard?

Sam:   I did not even recognise the name on that day in 1972 when, in the course of a visit to his home in Brecon, Roland Mathias said ‘Why don’t you write something about T J Llewelyn Prichard – the man who wrote Twm Sion Catti? As editor of the Anglo-Welsh Review, the outstanding journal of literature and the arts in Wales at the time, Roland was keen to fill gaps in the history of Welsh writing in English, and to encourage young writers, a category for which I just about qualified at the time. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

My first stop was the Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig, the Dictionary of Welsh Biography. The brief Prichard entry told me very little and, as I soon discovered, was inaccurate. It said he was born in Trallong, a hamlet in Breconshire. He wasn’t. It said he married Naomi Jones of Builth. No, he married Naomi James, and she came from Hereford. It was partly right in saying he died in poverty in Swansea in 1875 or 1876, when actually he was rescued from abject poverty by the Samaritan actions of good citizens of Swansea shortly before he died, more than a decade earlier, in January 1862. It said he was buried in Tabernacle Graveyard in the heart of Swansea. That, too, was wrong: he was tumbled into a paupers’ grave, which he shares with several others, in Dan-y-Graig Cemetery on the eastern outskirts of Swansea, and you cannot find the precise location now since scrap-metal thieves have stolen the small, numbered cast-iron marker that formerly identified it.

There were clues to follow up in DWB: for example, the entry mentions his having acted in plays in Brecon and Aberystwyth, and his employment for a time by Lady Llanover. However, the verifiable facts I discovered about Prichard I owe to a lot of reading, leg work and luck, and those wonderful storehouses of knowledge, public libraries, especially in Cardiff and Swansea, and the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. In Cardiff library I read all that Prichard wrote, some of it, especially the poetry, an uphill struggle, but Twm Sion Catti, unsophisticated as it is, was well worth the effort; and at Swansea, in the great bound volumes of the broadsheet Cambrian newspaper, I found the sad and moving facts of his final days. He died as a result of falling into his own fire, as the report of the inquest describes at length.

There was also the account (published in a journal called Cymry Fu) by Charles Wilkins, postmaster of Merthyr Tudful, of meeting Prichard at a dramatic performance in the town in 1857, when, in his late sixties, he was still wandering around Wales trying to sell copies of his Heroines of Welsh History, perhaps the first feminist take on historical studies. Wilkins describes a gaunt old man with a wax nose held in place by his spectacles, who spoke with ‘an earnest snuffle’ about great days acting in London’s top theatres.       

It was no wonder that barely half way through gathering evidence for the article I had promised I would write for Roland Mathias, my subject had become an obsession. I continued to research Prichard, off and on, for more than thirty years, and at the end was still dissatisfied. I knew that, no matter how long I kept digging, I would be unable to find answers to all the questions that nagged at me. That was when I had the idea of writing a novel, which would allow me to use my imagination to fill the gaps in Prichard’s life story that another lifetime of research could not possibly bridge.  



Twm Sion Cati''s cave, near Llanymddyfri

Twm Sion Catis cave near Llanymddyfri                    

AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little about Twm Sion Catti for the benefit of American readers?

Sam:   Prichard’s book Twm Sion Catti, published in Aberystwyth at his own expense in 1828, is littered with anachronisms and not even faintly historical. It is based on folk tales, embroideries on far distant facts passed from generation to generation by word of mouth, until gathered in chapbooks sometime in the eighteenth century and sold by fair-day hawkers. I am fairly confident this was Prichard’s source material. To it he added another, thicker layer of embroidery. That the book was a commercial success, his only commercial success, we gather from the existence of pirated editions. Hoping to cash in again, he published a considerably expanded version in 1839 and, among the papers left when he died, was a third, further enlarged, text, which was published posthumously in 1873. There have been dozens of versions since, a few in comic book form, all owing something to Prichard’s original.

The historical Twm Sion Catti was more properly Thomas Jones, born about 1530, the illegitimate son of a Cardiganshire landowner, who lived at Fountain Gate near Tregaron. The name by which he is familiarly known derives from a combination of the names of his father and his mother: he was Thomas, or Twm, the son of John (Sion) and Catti (Catherine). He was formally pardoned by the highest court in the land in 1559, at the time of Elizabeth I, though of what is not clear. Perhaps before he settled down he had been the madcap witty reprobate and outlaw that we find in the folk tales. He became a man of substance – a landowner in succession to his father, an antiquary, genealogist and bard, whose manuscripts, dating from about 1570, may be consulted at the National Library. His wealthy second wife, whom he married in 1607, was Joan, widow of Thomas Williams of Ystrad-ffin and daughter of Sir John Price of Brecon Priory, but he did not have long to enjoy the marriage: he died in 1609.

AmeriCymru: Where can people go to buy Prichard’s Nose on line.

Sam: The book was published by Y Lolfa in 2010. It is available as a paperback from Amazon and it can be downloaded as a Kindle book.

AmeriCymru: You are also a poet. Care to tell us a little about your poetry?

Sam: When I started out as a writer I thought of myself as a poet. Although I have written a great deal of prose in recent years, notably in a long and continuing series of ‘Letters from Wales’ for the Carcanet Press magazine PN Review (which I know is available in the USA), I still get a special feeling when I write a poem that other people enjoy. My early poetry was chiefly about Gilfach Goch, where I was born, the place and its characters, and while I still turn to those close-to-home subjects from time to time, I now draw on a far wider range of times, themes, people and places. My poems have been published in all the leading magazines of Wales, elsewhere in the UK and overseas. I have published three books of poems, the latest, Missed Chances, from Y Lolfa in 2007, is available from Google Books, Amazon and Abe Books.

Better than trying to describe the kind of poems I write, perhaps I should just give you a sample. The first is a childhood memory from World War II, the second a kind of extended metaphor, and the third comes from visiting the rooms in Rome, just alongside the Spanish Steps, where the artist Joseph Severn was nursing his friend John Keats in his final illness.  



Bomb on Gilfach

Not meant to be the target, we copped a stray.

When Swansea burned and set the sky alight,

Some German aircraft, limping loaded from the fray,

Fleeing shattered streets, dismembered dead,

Droned on and onwards through a moonless night.

The pilot, frantic for a fix, and the valleys'' spread

Fingers black on black beneath, said

''Drop the poxy thing, we''re losing height''.

 

A bomb fell in the night and no one died.

The news arrived as fat bacon fried

For breakfast with yesterday''s damped bread:

The doctor''s surgery was smashed, they said,

The old man, wrapped in wool and flannelette,

Descended safe abed through splintered planks

To the floor below. The windows of the church were blank;

Entire its slated roof had shifted

As if a clumsy hand had lifted

And once more, at an angle, set

 

It down. The war had come to seek us out

And we had slept. Some evil Nazi lout

Had dropped a bomb a few yards from our door

And no one heard. But all our nights were full

Of lumbering drams, the thump and roar

Of engines, infernal rattles as the coal was screened.

We would start to wakefulness if a lull

Occurred and somehow silence supervened.

 

Behind the skew-whiff church and silenced bell,

On a rushy patch of moss and water seep,

A vast inverted cone of mud struck deep

Into the hill. The frogs had been through hell.

We searched and fought for jagged shards

Of bomb, swapping spares for sets of cards

Or stamps – and watched them rust on windowsills;

Most wonderful, the doctor''s cellar door, blown down,

Disclosed his scattered packs of bandages and pills,

And, lustrous in the sunlight, carboys, blue and brown.

 

Kite Flying 

On days of noisy wind that combs

The rippling grasses this way and that

As it passes, and tugs at clothes

 

With sly unbuttoning fingers

And takes the breath away, I think

How we would lie in some drowned hollow

 

While the slow kite wriggled in its stream.

How sad that some boys never learn

To fly a kite. I thought that I

 

Should never get it right – perhaps

I had made my cross to rigid,

Perhaps my paste and paper were too frail.

 

We knew those moments when the breeze

Would fail our fledgling project

And the taut held line would sag,

 

But we launched out sweetly on the air

Again and cast off twine enough

To let our hobby climb and climb.

...

At the Spanish Steps

February again, late afternoon:

Black fingers tilt

The fountain''s silver, quick

In its marble spoon.

Sun stripes spilt

From a shadowed alley

Across the cobbled square

Will not linger there.

Darkness follows soon.

 

Severn, sentry in the march

Of life, saw the fountain,

Like a foundered boat, lurch

At its mooring. Light ebbing,

Descended the steep stair, ran

One thirty steps across the square, sobbing,

To the trattoria,

Bought supper for a dying man.

 

Six sentry paces past the narrow cot,

Two at the blank wall,

Six paces back, turn,

Three at the tall,

Shuttered windows. Look down:

There in the marble hull,

Like blood, the waters for a moment burn.

 

After the death mask,

The scissored curl of auburn hair,

After the bonfire, the sickbed burned to ash,

After the vengeful smash

Of unflawed pots, the room waits,

Still at last, stripped bare.

 

And troupes of lovers pass

To climb the steps and meet

With others going down, or pause

To sit and lean together, close.

Water in the wallowing boat

Catches a gleam, holds it afloat.

 

Like Severn, I see the sun''s snail track

Recede across the water''s black,

Walk six paces back.  



  

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Sam:   I greatly appreciate the opportunity you have given me of meeting members and readers of AmeriCymru and telling them something about my writing. Of course I hope they enjoy it, and if reading this raises further questions I would be glad to attempt to answer them. Dylan Thomas, R S Thomas, Roland Mathias and others, are I know well remembered, but it is quite wonderful that an interest in Wales and things Welsh, particularly the work of living authors, is alive and well in the USA, thanks to the care of and enthusiasm generated by AmeriCymru.



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J. D. Davies is a Welsh author and historian. Born in Llanelli, south-west Wales, he has written a number of factual books on the subject of 17th century naval history. He is also the author of a series of naval fiction adventures featuring Captain Matthew Quinton set in the reign of Charles II during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. AmeriCymru spoke to David about his latest book Britannia's Dragon: A Naval History of Wales.


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Britannia's Dragon: A Naval History of Wales AmeriCymru:  Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your recent book Britannia's Dragon: A Naval History Of Wales ?  

David: Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about the book! It's the first full length study of the part played by Wales and the Welsh in naval history, beginning in the Roman period, going through the age of the independent kingdoms and the conquest right the way up to the present day. It's based on several years of detailed research, including a great deal of work on original sources and my own fieldwork in different parts of the country. The book's been very well received, and was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Mountbatten Literary Award.    ...

AmeriCymru:  How significant was the Welsh contribution to British naval history?  

David: Enormous! For example, Nelson's navy couldn't have been as successful as it was without Welsh copper, mined at Parys Mountain on Anglesey and smelted in Greenfield, Swansea and elsewhere: because it reduced the frequency of major refits, coppering effectively increased the size of the operational fleet by a third, giving it a huge advantage over Napoleon's navy. The Victorian Royal Navy depended entirely on Welsh coal, and so, too, did the navies of many European states before 1914, including Russia and France. And Wales always provided large numbers of men for the Royal Navy. For example, in the book I make the pretty controversial, but thoroughly documented, claim that at the Battle of Trafalgar, the proportion of Welshmen in the fleet - relative to size of population - was much greater than that for the Scots or Irish, and if you count seamen alone, even slightly larger than the English contribution, again relatively speaking. The book also discusses famous Welsh naval men, such as Sir Thomas Foley (Nelson's right hand man), Henry James Raby (the first man ever to actually wear the Victoria Cross) and Commander Tubby Linton, one of the most brilliant submarine commanders of World War 2. It also looks at the history of Pembroke's royal dockyard, which built over 250 ships for the Royal Navy - including many famous battleships, five royal yachts, and Sir John Franklin's Erebus , the wreck of which has recently been rediscovered in the Arctic.  

AmeriCymru:  Does the book examine the Welsh contribution to the history of piracy?  

David: To an extent, yes, although I was aware of the fact that there are already several books in print about Welsh pirates, so I deliberately decided to focus on the much less well known story of the Welsh role in 'official' state navies. But it would have been impossible not to mention the likes of Sir Henry Morgan and Black Bart Roberts, so they do feature in it!

AmeriCymru:  The book includes a chapter on Welshmen in non British navies. Does the US Navy feature here? Any significant names?  

David: Yes, I've included a lot about the Welshmen who served in the United States Navy, and in the Confederate Navy, too. Probably the most significant name is that of Joshua Humphreys, the Philadelphia shipwright responsible for the US Navy's famous 'six frigates', including the USS Constitution . There were Welshmen aboard both the Monitor and the Merrimac/Virginia , and the likely remains of one of them were interred with full military honors at Arlington just last year . The book also includes a substantial and in some ways quite controversial section on the almost unknown naval context behind the survival of the Welsh colony in Patagonia.

Gentleman Captain AmeriCymru:  You have also written a series of novels set in the 17th century featuring Captain Matthew Quinton. Care to tell us more about the captain and his adventures?  

David:  I loved Patrick O'Brian's books, but I was very aware of the fact that the vast majority of the naval historical fiction genre was set within what might be called 'the age of Nelson', from about 1750 to 1815. Seventeenth century naval history had been neglected in comparison, and I wanted to rectify that, especially as I'd been working on the period as a historian for many years and had published two non-fiction books about it. It's a fascinating age, with spectacular events like the Great Fire of London, larger than life characters like King Charles II and Samuel Pepys, and a series of very hard fought Anglo-Dutch wars , which form the focus of my books. My hero, too, is different to the likes of Hornblower or O'Brian's Jack Aubrey, who go to sea as boys and are therefore highly skilled and experienced seamen when they take command. Captain Matthew Quinton is typical of the 'gentlemen captains' of the Restoration period - young Cavaliers who were given commands despite having next to no experience at sea. Matthew's first command is wrecked due to his inexperience, but he's given a second chance, and this leads him into all sorts of adventures during the course of the series, from the north of Scotland to the Baltic and the River Gambia! In a future book, I hope to take him to the Caribbean, too. At the moment there are five books published in the series: Gentleman Captain, The Mountain of Gold, The Blast That Tears The Skies, The Lion of Midnight , and The Battle of All The Ages.  

AmeriCymru:  Any new books in the pipeline?  

David: I'm currently finishing the sixth Quinton book, which is going to be a little bit different to its predecessors - although I can't really say any more than that at this stage! I also have a couple of non-fiction projects in the pipeline, too. 

AmeriCymru:   Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?  

David:  I think it's really tremendous that there's such a strong and active American network devoted to Welsh heritage! I'm originally from Llanelli, and part of my mother's family emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1890s; my mother still remembers the return visit one of them paid, a few years before I was born, and I have a copy of the diary that he made of his trip back to Britain, so I've always been fascinated by the Welsh diaspora. I hope that if any members of that diaspora have a look at Britannia's Dragon, you'll thoroughly enjoy it!

 


 


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Dark September
Brendan Gerad O’Brien. was born in Tralee, on the west coast of Ireland and now lives in Wales with his wife Jennifer and daughters Shelly and Sarah. As a child he spent his summer holidays in Listowel, Co Kerry, where his uncle Moss Scanlon had a Harnessmaker’s shop. Dark September is his first thriller. AmeriCymru spoke to Brendan about his writing and future plans.


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Dark September

AmeriCymru: Hi Brendan and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. How would you describe 'Dark September'?

Brendan: Dark September is a fast paced alternate history thriller set in Wales during WW2. It touches on the desperation and raw fear of ordinary people trying to survive against odds that are definitely not in their favour.

In the story Germany invades the UK. Soldiers pour ashore from warships in the Severn Channel, determined to secure the steelworks and the coal mines of South Wales.

Irishman Danny O’Shea is on his way to work in Newport Docks. His house is bombed and his wife is killed. His young son Adam, who nearly drowned when he was a baby, has severe learning difficulties. Terrified of what the Nazis will do to him, O’Shea resolves to take him to neutral Ireland.

Penniless and desperate, they head for Fishguard. But on an isolated Welsh road they witness an attack on a German convoy carrying the blueprints for an awesome new weapon that was discovered in a secret laboratory near Brecon.

German Captain Eric Weiss, responsible for the blueprint’s safe transfer to Berlin, knows that his job - even his life - depends on him getting it back.

But, following a major disagreement amongst the insurgents, the blueprint disappears. Then O’Shea goes to the aid of a dying woman - and both the Germans and the insurgents believe she’s told him where the blueprints are.

Suddenly O’Shea is separated from his son and catapulted into a world of betrayal and brutal double-cross. Pursued by both the Germans and the insurgents, his only concern is to find Adam and get him to safety.

One reviewer did think that the violence was too sudden and disturbing, but it only reflects the horror of the times and is not deliberately gratuitous.

AmeriCymru: How did you come to write the book and what is the story behind the new edition?

Brendan: The germ of the story has been in my head since the time I was in the Navy and we did exercises in the Brecon Beacons. I wondered what it would really be like to be running for your life through such inhospitable terrain with the bad guys determined to do you a serious injury if they caught you. But why would my character be running from anyone? What year should it be set in?

Later on I saw some disturbing footage of Nazis guards disposing of people with special need, and I felt tremendous sympathy for their families. How would I have react if I was in that position and Germany invaded the UK? Where would I take my child? Being Irish I felt it would be natural to gravitate to Ireland, which was neutral. And the chances were I’d still have some family there to go to.

Of course, once I’d started writing the story it took on a life of its own. Characters reacted in ways I never intended. People I created as decent characters turned into monsters half way through a chapter, even a sentence. It was exciting and disturbing all at the same time, and I enjoyed every moment of writing it.

I was concerned about making the leading nasty persons - two sisters - direct descendants of a treasured Welsh historical character. Initially they were beautiful, kind and loving girls but they were corrupted by both love and riches. But so far I haven’t had any negative feedback about it. I would appreciate the views of my Welsh readers on that.

The original book was self-published with Smashwords.com but it has now been taken up by http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your background as a writer? When did you first put pen to paper?

Brendan: When I won my first writing competition I was so excited I ran all the way home. I was about eight years old. The Fun Fair was coming to Tralee - our little town on the West coast of Ireland - and apart from Duffy's Circus which came every September, this was the highlight of our year. Our English teacher asked us to write an essay about it, and I won the only prize - a book of ten tickets for the fair.

There were eight kids in our family so everyone got a ride on something. Even The Mammy herself had a go on the dodgems.

So writing was in my blood from a very young age. I loved essays and English literature, but we were a very close family - physically as well as emotionally - so there wasn't much free space in our little house in Railway Terrace for me to sneak off to and indulge in my hobby.

My grand-uncle Moss Scanlon was a harness maker and he had a small shop in Lower William Street, Listowel - a rural town in Kerry that was just a bus ride from Tralee - where we spent some wonderful summer holidays. Down the lane opposite the shop was the River Feale, and Moss did some serious fishing there, standing out in the middle of the river in waders that came up to his neck while us kids swam in the cool brown water or just chilled out on the grass watching him struggle with a pike or a trout.

The shop had a wonderful magic about it - a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters who'd wander in for a chat and a bit of jovial banter. One wonderful storyteller who often popped in was John B Keane, and it was a great thrill to actually meet him. I asked him once where he got his ideas from, and he told me that everyone has a story to tell, so be patient and just listen to them.

And I was there, sitting on the counter in the shop, when John B's very first story was read out live on Radio Eireann. I can still remember the buzz of excitement and the sheer pride of the people of Listowel. And the seeds of storytelling were sown in my soul.

Another source of raw encouragement was Bryan MacMahon, one of Listowel's finest writers and a schoolmaster to boot, who was a very easy person to talk to.

Anyway, I left school at fourteen and went to work in hotels in Killarney, and I quickly got caught up in the excitement and colourful buzz of the tourist industry - remember, this was in the 60s when the Beatles were creating a heady revolution and engulfing the youth with hopes and dreams of a wonderful future - so I felt no great urgency to write. I dreamed of being a writer, of course. I wanted to be a writer - but somehow life just got in the way.

When I joined the Royal Navy at eighteen I was sent to the Far East, and I spent the first three years between Singapore and Hong Kong, and again I was having so much fun I didn't get to write anything, although there were loads of stories bursting to get out.

It was only when I got married and the children came along that I made any serious attempt to put pen to paper, and the result was Dark September, an alternative history thriller set in wartime Britain.

I loved writing it - I always wrote in longhand in a school notebook - but I hated having to type it. After working a ten-hour day, I'd be clattering away into the early hours of the morning on an old Olivetti typewriter and getting on everyone's nerves. Then I'd scream in frustration when I'd discover that hours of hard work were ruined by some horrendous typo error, and I'd have to start all over again.

Amazingly, I found an agent almost immediately, but she insisted on some major changes so I spent a year re-writing it.

Unfortunately my agent died suddenly and the agency closed. It took ages to find another agent, but he too demanded even more changes. It became too much for Jennifer and the kids, so my manuscript hibernated in the attic for a few years.

Then Jennifer bought me a computer for Christmas - with Spellcheck! This time finding an agent has proved an impossibility - they only want to represent people who're famous for just being famous - so I self-published it with Smashwords.com, though I still longed to have it accepted by a mainstream publisher.

Now I'm delighted to say the book has been accepted by Tirgearr Publishing - http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com - an Irish company, and I'm delighted with the result and all the hard work they've put into it to make it a great success.

AmeriCymru: You also write short stories. Do you have any plans for a new anthology?

Brendan: I’m always troweling through the old stories looking for inspiration, and so far I have about six that would be good enough. But I’d need a few more before I could put an anthology together.

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your collection of Irish short stories, 'Dreamin Dreams'?

Brendan: While Dark September was languishing in limbo I discovered that writing short stories is amazingly therapeutic. I get a great buzz from taking an idea and developing it, often watching it evolve into something completely different from how it started out. And I realized too that great ideas are all around us. Little gems are waiting to be harvested everywhere we look. I found myself listening to what people are saying, and the way they say it.

For instance, the Irish are famous all over the world for their colourful and exaggerated expressions, always using a dozen words when one would have done, so I build on that and set all my stories in Ireland. The names are changed, of course, because I don't earn enough to sustain a major lawsuit. I've written hundreds of stories, most of which are still stuffed in drawers somewhere, but I did manage to get more than twenty of them published over the years, in anthologies, e-zines and magazines as well as web sites.

Dreamin’ Dreams - published as an eBook with Smashwords.com, and in paperback by Lulu.com - contains twenty of my published stories, of which I'm very proud. They're all based on real people who passed through my life at some time or other, or events that actually happened to me. Enhanced, of course, and sometimes exaggerated out of all proportion.

The title comes from something my father said years ago when I got poor grades at school. 'What do you expect?' he said to my mother. 'He never does any studying. He just sits there, dreamin' dreams.'

The image on the cover is the statue in The Green, Tralee's town park, and it represents the characters in the song The Rose of Tralee. It's a tremendously impressive statue, and in a beautiful setting too.

Anyway, if you do get the chance to read Dreamin' Dreams, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

AmeriCymru: Where can people buy your work online? Do you have a website?

Brendan: bgobrien.com is my website.

Dark September can be found through Tirgearr Publishing and read on all e-readers.
http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com

Dreamin’ Dreams can be found through Smashwords.com, and all e-book retailers.
And in paperback from Lulu.com

AmeriCymru: What are you working on at the moment? Any new novels in the pipeline?

Brendan: I’m about two chapters away from finishing my latest novel, which is also an alternate history thriller.

Set in 1941, Ireland is sinking under the hordes of refugees swarming there to escape the war in Europe. Danny O’Shea is a Local Security Force volunteer - an auxiliary policeman, in other words.

A man is shot dead in a crowded pub and no one sees or hears anything. Then a young woman is found dead in the town park the very next day.

But when a child disappears from a hospital the suspense is ratcheted up several notches …and the Gardaí need all the help they can get from the LSF. But can O’Shea step up to the mark?

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Brendan: Thanks for taking the time to read this - I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did doing it. Remember AmeriCymru is a great place to hang out and chat with people who share a common interest - all things Welsh - so enjoy it and spread the word.


 

Acts of God - An Interview With Brian John


By AmeriCymru, 2016-06-28

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Brian John will need no introduction to many of our readers. His popular Angel Mountain Saga of eight novels set in Pembrokeshire featuring Mistress Martha Morgan has sold more than 75,000 copies worldwide. The novels are set in the rough landscape around the mountain of Carningli in Pembrokeshire, "which is now the scene of considerable "literary tourism" as fans of the series visit Martha Morgan Country." AmeriCymru spoke to Brian about his latest novel 'Acts of God', a cold war thriller set in the 'Arctic Riviera' of East Greenland.


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Welsh author Brian John

AmeriCymru: Hi Brian and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your latest novel Acts of God ?

Brian: Thanks for the invitation! It's always good to communicate with compatriots and friends on the other side of the pond. I'm not sure how to describe the new novel. I hope it's got more depth to it than the average thriller, which tends to place action (normally violent) above character development or the interactions between groups and individuals. And many of the thrillers I have read over the years don't give you much of a sense of place. I'm a geographer by training, and a sense of place means a great deal to me -- like everybody else in Wales, I have hiraeth in my blood! But here the place that becomes a character in the story is East Greenland rather than Wales.

...

AmeriCymru: Why there?

Brian: Well, because I went to East Greenland and its amazing fjord landscape in 1962 as a student, as joint leader of an Oxford University expedition. The area around Scoresby Sund is referred to -- with some justification -- as the Arctic Riviera, because of the freakish hot and dry weather normally experienced there during the Arctic summer. It's the only place in the world where I've ever experienced heat stroke! We had a fabulous time in the field over a period of eight weeks, but we had a few close shaves with disaster, and realised at the end of the expedition that we had been lucky to come out of it without any major injuries or even deaths. We were completely unsupported, a hundred miles from the nearest help if anything had gone wrong, and not even any radios to call for help. In retrospect, we took some crazy risks, as young men tend to do. We probably thought we were immortal.

But there were also some intriguing things that happened to us -- heavy aircraft high overhead, encounters with US military personnel, and of course a strong US presence at Keflavik in Iceland, not very far away. We were there, after all, at the height of the Cold War. In 1962 Gary Powers, the U2 pilot, was released. The USA was still recovering from the Bay of Pigs disaster. The Cuban Missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The Berlin Wall was being built. There was tension in the air. So back in 1962 I suppose the seeds of this novel were sown in my mind -- and for over 50 years they have been slowly germinating. And a couple of years ago I worked out the theme for the novel and started work on the first draft.

Oxford Greenland Expedition 1962

Camp site on the Oxford Glacier in 1962.  Some of the incidents from the OU Expedition to East Greenland were used as the basis for episodes in the new novel



  AmeriCymru: And the theme is?

Brian: I don't want to give too much away, but let's call the book the first ever "Arctic Noir" novel! It's related in some ways to those dark and brutal "Scandinavian Noir" stories that have poured out of Sweden, Denmark and Norway over the past few years -- but this story does not have a dysfunctional detective or a homicidal maniac who leads the police in a complex chase through the murky winter landscapes of the Copenhagen suburbs. In the high Arctic the darkness is the blackness of the long winter night -- and symbolically the blackness imposed on a pristine wilderness and an innocent people by powerful nations intent on out-thinking and dominating other powerful nations. And there is a very dark villain too. The story follows several groups of people whose fortunes are intertwined. The action jumps from one group to another in a manner that is deliberately cinematic. But essentially, the narrative is about a group of young men who arrive in East Greenland on a scientific expedition and who find, even before they arrive in their fieldwork area, that strange things are happening to them and to their environment.

They experience one "Act of God" after another, and soon they are afflicted by deaths and serious injuries. They are not the only ones to suffer -- the small local population of Greenlanders is also caught up in strange events. As the death toll mounts, the explorers are too intelligent and too inquisitive for their own good, and they realise that their misfortunes can be traced back to a strange "mining settlement" in a red mountain called called Himmelbjerg, surrounded by glaciers and snowfields, some fifty miles away from their base camp. Gradually, they uncover a gigantic conspiracy which has its roots in the Cold War, and it becomes clear that they are being targetted by an implacable enemy with limitless resources who will not allow any of them to get out of East Greenland alive. The forces of darkness, by the way, are led by a man called Jim Wagner. And so the scene is set for the Twilight of the Gods.........

Oxford Greenland Expedition 1962

Author Brian John and two colleagues near the point of exhaustion, on Roslin Glacier in 1962.



AmeriCymru: So the story is an allegorical one, full of symbols?

Brian: Yes, it is. All good stories are allegorical to a degree, since every author is seeking to demonstrate universal truths through an examination of a unique set of circumstances affecting a specific group of people. The conflict between good and evil is played out in almost every work of fiction -- it's a universal theme. There's another theme too, which has been in my mind ever since I started planning this novel. It's the same theme that Alexander Cordell used in "Rape of the Fair Country" -- the loss of innocence, the violent despoilation of a beautiful wilderness, the loss of humanity, the cynical acceptance of collateral damage in pursuit of power and wealth. Greed and the lust for power lie at the heart of Cordell's story, as they do in mine.

But while he was dealing with mineral exploitation and industrialisation, I'm dealing here with geopolitics and military might. This is a Cold War story, and I have tried to capture the mood of the time. And as some of my readers have already remarked, the events which I've built into the story are not so fantastical that they cannot possibly have occurred in reality. Since I tend be have an optimistic turn of mind, I like to tell stories in which evil and brutality bring their own grotesque rewards, and in which virtue triumphs!

AmeriCymru: 'Acts of God' is very much a change of setting and genre from your 'Angel Mountain' series. What prompted you to explore new avenues?

Brian:  I wasn't exactly bored with Martha Morgan and her Angel Mountain adventures, and am as fascinated by her as ever -- but shall we say I was getting rather complacent? After eight novels dealing with the same group of people in early nineteenth-century Wales I began to feel that I was in the comfort zone, and that there was a danger that my writing standards might start to slip. So rather than risking that, I decided to take on something more challenging -- an Arctic Noir story set in the Cold War of 1962. That of course involved huge changes in my storytelling technique, in the style of language used by the characters and in the interpretations of landscapes, political contexts, personal relationships and almost everything else. Also, in the Angel Mountain books I used a particular format -- an introductory chapter describing the discovery of another diary volume, and then a narrative unfolding in a diary format. Using a female voice, too!

This new novel has enabled me to experiment with a quite different narrative form -- third person, a relatively straightforward timeline, and several groups of players as the drama evolves. And for a change the real stars of the story are men! That having been said, there are just two women in this story -- but they are both absolutely critical to the manner in which the central crisis is resolved.  

AmeriCymru: Where can readers find 'Acts of God' online? Is there a website?

Brian:  The book is already available in both paperback and Ebook for Kindle. There is also a dedicated web site which is getting a wonderful response from readers.

This is the link to my web site, where I have a purchasing facility for both European and American readers:

Acts of God

And here are the other key links:

Acts of God ( Kindle ) Amazon.co.uk

Acts of God ( Paperback ) Amazon.co.uk

Acts of God ( Kindle ) Amazon.com

Acts of God ( Paperback ) Amazon.com

Polar Bear - Greenland

Polar bears such as this one inevitably play a role in a novel set in the Greenland fjords



AmeriCymru: While this story is obviously a full-blown adventure story with a dark conspiracy at its heart, it seems that you are also fascinated by the East Greenland landscape. Are you being paid by the Greenland tourist office?

Brian: If only! Maybe I should send them a bill? Seriously though -- of course I'm fascinated by the East Greenland landscape. It's one of the most exotic locations possible -- by far the most spectacular fjord landscape on earth, richly textured, washed with vibrant colours and ringing with birdsong and the sounds that come from glaciers and rolling and melting icebergs. I still have a large collection of digitised images from my own expedition in 1962, and during my research for this story I have dug up hundreds of amazing photos from more recent travellers into the area. I've put the best of them into a number of albums which anybody can access, including these:

Acts of God on Pinterest

East Greenland on Pinterest

Oxford University East Greenland Expedition 1962 on Pinterest

East Greenland is already becoming an important tourist destination, but access into the fjords is strictly limited to around two months every year, because of the ubiquitous East Greenland pack-ice belt. The Greenlanders are still involved in hunting, and it's important that their way of life should continue without too much interference from anybody else. But the wildlife resources are fantastic, and the tourist authorities are pushing "eco tourism" as hard as they can, with many visitors now coming in by air. That extends the tourist season, and now we are seeing trekking and "adventure holidays" in the area in the spring months as well, when the light is bright, the fjords are still frozen, and the snow is still thick on the ground. But tourism has to be handled carefully -- the area lies outside the East Greenland National Park, and great sensitivity -- and maybe tourist "rationing" -- is needed if this delicate wilderness is not to be damaged by those who seek to protect it.

AmeriCymru: Are you planning any further instalments in the 'Angel Mountain' saga?

Brian: Never say never. My faithful readers, who have bought 75,000 of my books since the series started, keep on hassling me and asking for more! All I can say at the moment is that there are still some long gaps in the story which are waiting to be filled. There are some interesting characters too -- like the wizard Joseph Harries -- who would make interesting central characters for other stories. Then we also have the next generation of the Morgan family, now that Martha is finally in her grave. I'll keep the matter under review!

AmeriCymru: What are you doing for Christmas?

Brian:  Nothing very exotic. I hate the very idea of Christmas in a hotel, or away from home. So it'll be at home, all being well, in the company of my wife, two sons, one daughter-in-law and two teenage grandsons. In our family we are lucky, since my wife Inger is Swedish and since we therefore have to celebrate Christmas twice. Christmas Eve (Julafton) is the important day in Sweden, so of course we have to celebrate that properly with all the correct rituals and food. Then we do it all again on Christmas Day, this time with the full turkey dinner in the evening. By Boxing Day we are all desperately in need of fresh air and exercise -- so whatever the weather, according to tradition, we all go for a long walk either on the cliffs of the north Pembrokeshire coast or else up our local mountain of Carningli. Up there, of course, on the mountain, we can commune with the resident angels.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Brian: Keep up the good work! It's great to see you and so many others participating in a real project designed to keep the Welsh flag flying in North America. Hiraeth is alive and well, and I've always believed that a "sense of belonging" is at least as important as a sense of place to all of us, as human beings, if we are to lead interesting and fulfilling lives. I don't think there is any conflict at all in feeling Welsh as well as being American, or Canadian, or whatever. If I'm asked what I am, I will always answer than I am a Welshman -- but that doesn't stop me from feeling British and European as well. So keep the dragon flying, keep cheering on the Welsh rugby team, and keep on buying Welsh books! Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Tupilak3

The tupilak or tupilaq is a small ferocious creature, no more than 4" tall and carved out of walrus tusk.  In the old days it was used as part of a curse or spell, to bring misfortune on the recipient.  Sometimes it was cast into the sea as part of the magic  ritual.  A tupilak features strongly in the new novel.


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AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh horror writer Mark Howard Jones about his first book as editor,   Cthulhu Cymraeg . Mark was born on the 26th anniversary of Lovecraft's death. His first published novella The Garden Of Doubt On The Island Of Shadows (2006) was praised Ray Bradbury, among others. Mark has published two other collections of dark fiction:- Songs From Spider Street (2010) and Brightest Black (2013).


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AmeriCymru: Hi Mark and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru? You are the driving force behind the collection of Welsh 'Lovecraftian' tales:- 'Cthulhu Cymraeg'. What inspired you to produce and contribute to this anthology?

Mark: I came up with the idea for the anthology more-or-less out of necessity. Given the huge influence of Welsh author Arthur Machen on Lovecraft's work, combined with the fact that there has been an explosion in Cthulhu Mythos-themed books over the last few decades, I felt sure that a book like Cthulhu Cymraeg must already exist; one where Welsh authors returned the compliment paid to Machen by Lovecraft by writing in a Lovecraftian manner. Completing the circle, so to speak.

But after months of searching for this book that gave a uniquely Welsh twist to the Cthulhu Mythos, I gave up, forced to admit that no Welsh publisher had yet been down that road. That was when I approached Steve Upham, who upon hearing of the idea was keen that his Cardiff-based company, Screaming Dreams, should take on the project.  

So I suppose you could say I produced the book because I wanted to read it! 

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about your contribution to the collection:- 'Pilgrimage'?  

Mark: I took something that many people in south Wales will be familiar with - the hour's rail journey between Cardiff and Swansea - and made it even stranger than it usually is! 

The story nearly didn't happen, in fact. I'm always critical of writers who edit an anthology and include one of their own stories. It seems like cheating somehow. 

But in this instance I'm merely being hypocritical. As one of the few Welsh authors who had already written a series of Lovecraftian stories, the publisher persuaded me that on this occasion I really needed to put my money where my mouth was. 

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about the other contributors?  

Mark:   All the contributors were either born in Wales or have lived here for some time, so hopefully a uniquely Welsh point of view comes through in the writing. It'd be unfair to pick out individual contributors but all of them have a track record of writing tales of the fantastic and macabre; some have even won prestigious awards for their work. 

The publisher, Steve Upham, and I agreed that we didn't simply want writers who were 'holidaying in horror' but rather authors who had an already proven commitment to the genre. And I think that shows through in the stories.  

And there are more writers in Wales today creating tales of the fantastic than ever before. So there is a solid foundation for a Welsh School Of The Weird - maybe this book is its first manifesto, who knows. 

I should also mention that we were very fortunate in that S T Joshi, Lovecraft's biographer and one of the world's foremost Lovecraft experts, agreed to write a foreword to the anthology. It speaks volumes about Machen's influence on Lovecraft in just a few pages. We were very grateful that he was generous enough to do that as he is always incredibly busy. 

AmeriCymru: How much does this collection owe to, and celebrate, the legacy of Arthur Machen ?  

Mark:  Gwilym Games, of the Friends Of Arthur Machen ,often gives talks on the author's influence on Lovecraft. I've heard him say on several occasions "Without Machen there would have been no Lovecraft". I think that sums things up very well. And, by extension, without Machen there would have been no 'Cthulhu Cymraeg'. So you could say that the anthology forms a small part of his legacy. 

AmeriCymru: In your opinion, how much of an influence did Machen have on Lovecraft's writing?  

Mark: An enormous influence. Without him, Lovecraft's work would have been very different. If he hadn't discovered Machen's tales, the Anglophile New Englander would probably have been far more influenced by Lord Dunsany or Algernon Blackwood and perhaps his writing would have had far less impact than it has had. 

In his 1927 essay 'Supernatural Horror In Literature', Lovecraft says about Machen: “Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen.”  He also praised Machen's story 'The White People' as one of the greatest examples of weird literature ever written. 

And of course the influence of Machen's celebrated 1894 novella 'The Great God Pan' can be seen quite clearly in one of Lovecraft's best-known tales, 'The Dunwich Horror', which seems to have been partly written as an homage to the Welsh author. 

AmeriCymru: How prominently does Welsh folklore feature in these tales?  

Mark:  One or two of the stories do touch on elements of Welsh folklore, although that was never really a major intention of the anthology. 

But in the introduction I do suggest that Lovecraft's inter-dimensional beings are distorted versions of the Welsh myth of the Tylwyth Teg (or 'Fair Family'). Machen used these supernatural beings, who were said to dwell underground or below water, in his own work (most notably in 'The White People', 'The Novel Of The Black Seal' and 'The Children Of The Pool'), making them even more terrifying than their already unsettling reputation. Perhaps Lovecraft was impressed by these creatures' reputed ability to use water as an occult gateway between their own realm and ours, echoing this in his own creations' thankfully unsuccessful attempts to create their own gateways between the arcane and the mundane. 

So it could be that Lovecraft himself was unconsciously influenced by Welsh folklore, transforming it (Oz-like) into something even more fantastical than the original. 

Songs From Spider Street AmeriCymru: What is your background as a writer? Can you tell us something about your other books/writing?  

Mark:  My background is in journalism. I spent a decade-and-a-half working for Welsh newspapers (including the South Wales Echo in Cardiff and the South Wales Evening Post in Swansea) and the BBC before moving to a marketing and PR role in higher education.  

I decided at the age of nine that I wanted to be a writer. I finally succeeded in getting into print at the age of 39! 

My novella 'The Garden Of Doubt On the Island Of Shadows' was published in 2006. It was largely written as a response to my father's death two years earlier.  

By a strange co-incidence it was read by the great American author Ray Bradbury, who was kind enough to comment favourably on it. This meant a lot to me as I am a great admirer of his work, which I discovered in my early teens. 

My 2010 book 'Songs From Spider Street' is structured so it can be read as either a portmanteau novel or a short story collection, depending on your mood and how much time you have. It contains a mixture of magic realism, science fiction, existential horror and surrealism. 

While the follow-up collection, 2013's 'Brightest Black', has a darker tone overall and is more traditional. 

At the moment I'm working on a new collection for an American publisher. But as I'm quite a slow writer I can't say when that'll see the light of day. 

My stories also pop up from time-to-time in anthologies and magazines when you least expect them. 

AmeriCymru: What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?  

Mark: I've just finished re-reading Juan Rulfo's 'Pedro Paramo'. And I'm also dipping into a beautiful-looking book by Colorado's Centipede Press called 'A Mountain Walked: Great Stories Of The Cthulhu Mythos'. There is some wonderful work in there and, in terms of its size and weight, it reminds me of an old Welsh family Bible. 

As for recommendations - well, Machen and Lovecraft of course. Any short story by Dino Buzzati. 'Invisible Cities' by Italo Calvino, which is endlessly inventive and great to dip in and out of. Christopher Priest's wonderful novel 'The Glamour'. 

I can't choose a single piece by Thomas Ligotti, so I'll just content myself with saying that anything by him is well worth reading (even his shopping list, probably).  

AmeriCymru: What's next for Mark Howard Jones?  

Mark: Early next year a collection called 'Dreamglass Days' is due out, which collects together all the stories I've had published in the Manchester-based literary magazine Sein und Werden over the last eight years. 

And there are plans for a second volume of 'Cthulhu Cymraeg'. The anthology had almost universally good reviews but the one thing people did say was that it simply wasn't long enough. So this time we'll probably be concentrating on publishing longer stories and even novella-length pieces. 

AmeriCymru: Where can our readers go to purchase 'Cthulhu Cymraeg' online?  

Mark: It's available through Amazon both in the U.S. and the U.K. They can also simply click on the ad in the Welsh-American Bookstore. > 

If anyone wants more information about the book they can visit www.screamingdreams.com/cthulhucymraeg.html

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?  

Mark:  Why not read 'Cthulhu Cymraeg' to your loved ones by the fireside on these cold winter nights.



READ THE WINNING ENTRY HERE DREAMING OF HOME



David Lloyd

AmeriCymru: Hi David and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. I think it would be fair to say that you are an American writer with an intimate connection to Wales. Care to tell us a little about your Welsh background?

David: My father was born and grew up in Corris, near Machynlleth, and my mother in Pontrhydyfen, near Port Talbot - Welsh speaking, chapel-centered villages in those days, with Corris being all about slate and Pontrhydyfen depending on coal mining. They met in Aberystwyth, where my mother was a university student and my father a visiting minister. After marriage, my father served as minister in Ferndale (where my eldest brother was born) and then at the Heathfield Rd. Welsh Chapel in Liverpool (where my sister was born). When Moriah Presbyterian Church in Utica, New York put out a call for a Welsh-speaking minister, my father wanted to try it out, and brought the family over in 1949, intending to stay only a few years. My other brother and I were born in the US, and the family stayed on. So I grew up in the Welsh American community in Utica, which was very active in those days. At the time he retired, my father was the last minister in the area to preach and hold services in Welsh.

David Lloyd on a road near Corris, where his father was born.



AmeriCymru: You recently won the West Coast Eisteddfod Online Short Story Competition with your story Dreaming of Home . What can you tell us about this story?

David: "Dreaming of Home" is from a story collection titled The Moving of the Water, with all stories set in the Welsh American community of Utica during the 1960s. In this story, an immigrant from Wales named Old Llew (short for Llewelyn but also “lion” in Welsh) returns to his apartment after a day of drinking. He watches a TV news report on fighting in Vietnam, falls asleep, and dreams. And what he dreams about is his own battle experience in WWI. Of course WWI affected Wales terribly, with the loss of young men devastating communities. In his dream, Llew relives a bloody attack in the trenches, is visited by his father (because it’s a dream after all), and asks to be taken away from the trenches, back home. "But you are home," his father tells him. “Dreaming of Home” and other stories in The Moving of the Water explore the ambiguous nature of “home” for someone like Llew. Is home where you came from, or where you currently live? Is your true home the land of your first language and your formative years? Or is your home a product of the defining experiences of your life, such as fighting in a WWI trench or in Vietnam? I don’t want my stories to provide answers - I want to dramatize and get readers thinking about certain questions.

AmeriCymru: How would you characterise the concept of "hiraeth"? Is it more than "homesickness"?

David: “Hiraeth” is a complex word, made more complex by being sometimes used in a sentimental way. I think “hiraeth” is about a profound longing - for the security of the past, for the remembered (and mis-remembered) past, for places that are etched in memory. It’s a longing for “home,”  however that home might be conceived. So yes, it’s much more than homesickness - an existential longing that all humans experience.

AmeriCymru: You edited the 2009 Parthian collection Other Land . That collection "examines Wales and being Welsh-American through divergent poetics and perspectives." How would you describe your perspective?

David: I know that my identity has been shaped by the values, accents, stories, and memories of my Welsh parents - their distinct ways of being in the world. My identity has also been shaped by the American values, accents, landscapes around me, not to mention TV, music, films, books, education. I was raised on both “Calon Lân” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” you might say. I am fascinated by the hybrid or blended nature of identity - of the identities of all Americans, even those descended from pilgrims on the Mayflower, even Native Americans. My perspective is that I don’t want to write or read about the trappings of being Welsh - hymn-singing, coal mining, leeks, and so on. I want to write and read about the deeper workings in people’s lives that make them who they are.

David Lloyd (center) with (from left) Welsh poets Nigel Jenkins, Menna Elfin, Iwan Llwyd



AmeriCymru: In your 1994 anthology The Urgency of Identity you featured many of the most important English-language Welsh poets of the 80's and 90's. Do you believe that "English-language Welsh poets create a divided art"?

David: I wouldn’t use the term “divided” in describing writings by English-language Welsh poets, though I do recognize the strains and tensions they experience, working in a bilingual nation where English has been dominant only for last hundred or so years. I think the best English-language Welsh poets are publishing some of the most original and important verse written anywhere, using English to express their unEnglish identities. I love Robert Minhinnick’s dense, energized language and political commitment. I’m interested in every new book John Barnie publishes, because he’s pushing edges in multiple genres. And then there’s exciting work produced from Welsh-language writers (and musicians and artists) - poet and musician Twm Morys is an example. Iwan Bala’s art has been ground-breaking for Wales - in his drawings he uses Welsh and English words, recognizing the fraught bilingual reality. He’s engaged with “remapping” Wales and Welsh culture through his art.

AmeriCymru: Please tell us a little about your other work. In particular your novels and short stories.

David: I published my first book of fiction, Boys: Stories and a Novella, with Syracuse University Press in 2004.  That work (like my new manuscript, The Moving of the Water) is a linked series of stories taking place in my hometown of Utica. Twelve stories collectively titled "On Monday"  happen on the same day (a Monday, as you might guess), in February of 1966. Main characters in some stories reappear as minor characters in other stories. As a collection the stories explore ways in which American culture shapes (and mis-shapes) its children.  The novella, "Boys Only," features a character named Chris from a Welsh background, and one of my favorite scenes is between him and his Welsh-speaking Taid.

In 2013 I published a novel, Over the Line, again set in upstate New York. This story takes place during a week in the life of Justin, a teenager in a town buckling under the pressures of unemployment, endemic crime, and rising drug use. It’s something of a mystery story, as Justin gets closer and closer to the unknown source of methamphetamine in his community. I’m interested not only in how society affects an individual’s development but also in the concept of heroism - as an ideal, an illusion, and a reality.

The most recent of my three poetry collections is Warriors , published by Salt Publications in the UK but available in the US via Amazon and the Salt web site. I review books occasionally and write literary criticism, such as articles on R. S. Thomas and, recently, Brenda Chamberlain.

AmeriCymru: What's next for David Lloyd? Any new projects in the pipeline?

David: I’m working on two projects: finishing a new poetry collection, tentatively titled The Body’s Compass, and undertaking final edits for my story collection, The Moving of the Water, which I hope soon to send to publishers to consider. I’ve been publishing some of those stories. You can find one titled “Home” in the on-line Welsh journal Lampeter Review and one titled “The Key” in the US journal Stone Canoe .

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

David: The story of Welsh-American life has been well documented by historians - and that excellent work is ongoing. Contemporary poets have been exploring the experience of being Welsh and American - including those in my Other Land anthology, such as Jon Dressel, William Greenway, and Margaret Lloyd. But I would love to see more Welsh American writers drawing on their cultural experience and identity - poems, stories, memoirs, cross-genre works: there’s a rich vein of experience yet to be mined.

 
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